Sunday Sermon for August 31, 2014, the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Jer 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27
In the second reading today Jeremiah cries out to the Lord in his loneliness and pain saying that the Lord duped him and that he had allowed himself to be duped. This is because the Word of the Lord brought him derision and reproach. This is a common theme among those who take up the spiritual life. But the fact is that the Lord has not duped anyone, we dupe ourselves.
In many places throughout the Scriptures the Lord tells us what will happen if we choose to live according to His Word. Even in today’s Gospel Jesus says that we have to take up our cross daily and follow Him. Beyond that, He says that if we try to save our live, we will lose it; but if we lose our life for His sake, we will find it. He spoke in the Beatitudes about the fact that we are blessed when we are persecuted, He told us that if they hate us it is because they hated Him first, He told us that we will be dragged into court, thrown into prison and that some will be martyred because of Him.
He definitely did not dupe us by telling us something that was not true or by hiding from us what the cost of following Him would be. In fact, He even told us that we have to calculate the cost before beginning the project. The problem is that we dupe ourselves in a couple of different ways. First of all, we either ignore these kinds of passages in Scripture where it talks about the suffering we will necessarily endure as a disciple of Christ. Secondly, we often think that a little bit of suffering will not be a problem for us; we can handle it.
Like Jeremiah, when we turn to the Lord and recognize the truth and beauty of His Word, we fall in love with God, but only emotionally, and so we just want to immerse ourselves in the beauty and help others to see what we have found. This is doing exactly what St Paul tells us to do in the second reading when he says that we are not to conform ourselves to this age, but we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. The problem is that we think that those who have conformed themselves to this age will want to be transformed as well.
Of course, when the Cross is offered to people who are used to fun and pleasure they want nothing to do with it. When real love that involves suffering for the good of others in presented to people who are used to selfishness they reject what will require them to change. I suspect that if we are honest with ourselves, most of us have experienced this in our own lives. When presented with the truth, we preferred the lie because it was easier, more fun, more pleasurable, or whatever our reason may have been.
Many Catholics still do not want the Cross; neither do they want to be transformed by the renewal of their minds because they want to remain essentially conformed to the world while believing in Jesus at the same time. They want to go to Mass on Sunday and not really be bothered by the demands of the Christian life beyond that. If we are willing to take up the fullness of the Christian life, we will find out quickly that many do not want to hear about the wonderful treasure that we found. If you persist in living the life, you will soon find yourself being abandoned by those who were your friends. You will find yourself alone with Jesus, which is a great blessing, but very hard to deal with at first.
Even being alone with our Lord means being purified of our selfishness and attachments and really being transformed into one whose love is deep and not just emotional. In other words, it means becoming a Saint. We have all read the lives of the Saints and while we admire them, sadly most of us do not want to be one.
Peter did not like the idea that Jesus would have to be crucified; we do not like the idea that we should have to do the same. In His loneliness and pain Jesus cried out from the Cross; He felt the abandonment, but He remained faithful and prayed for those who crucified Him. Jeremiah also remained faithful and, after adjusting to his situation, was able to be the Prophet God called him to be. The same is true for us. If we remain faithful and continue to pray we will be transformed into persons who discern the will of God and do what is good, pleasing and perfect.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.